Book Review: King Lear

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In a harsh world, one must adopt a rational and realistic outlook to be successful. Often, humans who act upon their uncontrolled, undirected whims of emotion folly into their own failures and even their demises. It is a failure to act rationally that leads to the tragic ending of Shakespeare’s play, King Lear. In the concluding Act V, all main characters of both plots die except for Albany and Edgar. The tragic ending is an inversion of the conventional development of justice in Aristotelian tragedies, where good triumphs evil with almost always a happy ending. This success usually follows the tragic hero’s agnagnorisis thereafter they overcome their hamartia to resolve the main conflict. Though Shakespeare did not follow Aristotelian tragedy plots, the ending of King Lear still causes the reader to question why Cordelia must die after King Lear has already regained his sanity. It is what transpires after Cordelia’s death, where King Lear descends again into madness that clarifies the point of Cordelia’s death. Shakespeare’s use of peripeteia with Cordelia’s death reveals that Lear has actually failed to amend his hamartia.

Cordelia’s is characterized as emotional, virtuous, and naïve which Lear indulges making her an effective tool to demonstrate Lear’s failed anagnorisis. It is obvious that Cordelia has a deep relation to emotion, given Shakespeare choice to name her Cordelia which means heart in Latin. Cordelia is symbolic of truth and virtue, as setup by her characterization when she defends her claim that her “love’s more richer than [her] tongue” (Shakespeare 1.1.79-80). Cordelia symbolizing virtue is confirmed by Lear’s statement that “thy truth…be thy dower” and France’s decision to “[her] virtues here I seize upon” (Shakespeare 1.1.112, 1.1.273). In an objective view of Cordelia, this characterization demonstrates emotion’s dominance over her actions and, resultantly, a naïve quality of Cordelia. It is Lear’s investment into these qualities of...
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